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Resolving Conflict With Coworkers or Customers: Advice for Self-Storage Managers

No matter how well a self-storage operation is run, conflict will sometimes occur between staff and customers or coworkers. As the facility manager, it’s your job to ensure cooler heads prevail. Here are some strategies that should help, whether you’re directly involved or a bystander.

Susan Haviland

March 31, 2023

6 Min Read

Avoiding all conflict in the self-storage workplace is a worthy but impossible goal. Negative incidents will inevitably occur despite our best efforts. After all, there’s myriad ways for something to go wrong. Gates can break. Technology can fail. Theft happens. Bad weather strikes. As a result, there can be finger-pointing and high emotions, especially between people with different attitudes, cultures, aptitudes, etc. Every day brings opportunities for friction to develop, however, these difficult moments don’t have to be harmful to your business.

As the facility manager, you’re in charge of dispute resolution—even when you’re directly involved. You’re the hub through which all facility communication flows, so you need to be adept at handling the many forms of conflict that can occur. Otherwise, not only are customers likely to vacate and leave bad reviews, area supervisors will spend more of their valuable time negotiating with tenants or investigating employee issues. That doesn’t reflect well on you as a manager, and staff morale will inevitably suffer.

On the other hand, if you can prevent conflict from escalating and broker successful resolutions to problems when they occur, you’ll be making a tremendous contribution to the success of the business. With that in mind, let’s look at the role you can play in maintaining a happy, productive self-storage operation.

A Skill Worth Enhancing

Conflict resolution is a skill that can be learned like any other. That said, there’s no better teacher in this case than experience. You can find articles, books, podcasts and videos about how to respond to and diffuse disputes, but nearly all of us have faced and overcome difficult situations in the past. Hopefully, we’ve learned from them.

When applying for a self-storage management position, whether it’s your first job in the industry or a promotion, you’ll be evaluated not only on how well you’ve handled certain scenarios in the past but on your attitude toward those incidents. Your company wants someone in charge of their facility who relishes the opportunity to improve a bad situation for all parties.

Your employer should set clear expectations for how it wants you to resolve conflicts with customers and coworkers. If not, seek clarification. Boundaries should be set and training offered. As a self-storage manager, you represent the owner and business, and should therefore be empowered to implement solutions to problems that arise.

Conflict With Coworkers

It isn’t uncommon for conflicts to arise between self-storage facility employees. It’s easy for a manager to get frustrated with another staffer who isn’t as educated about the industry or professionally motivated. Maybe someone on your team struggles with punctuality or office cleanliness. Maybe they’re constantly on their personal phone, or they skip out on making collections calls, or they forget to do lock checks. There are many scenarios in which tasks might be underperformed.

Before you overreact, ask yourself: Is this due to the employee’s lack of focus and motivation, or a deficiency in knowledge and training? On one hand, this person may need to accept that the job requires a higher level of self-discipline. However, you must be willing to concede that your coworker’s or employee’s training may have been insufficient.

Your response—and the proper solution—will be different in each case. However, the common approach for all conflict resolution is proper communication between the parties and a win-win spirit. It really helps when both people are willing to listen to the other’s point of view. Have a conversation in person, in private and in a non-threatening manner. The goal is to find a middle ground, so you can maintain an upbeat, productive workplace.

A common pitfall to be aware of is setting expectations far too high for your colleagues, maybe even higher than you would set for yourself. If you do this, you’ll churn and burn through decent, serviceable employees in search of a “unicorn” who never calls out sick, is never late and rents units like a seasoned pro. Though you should expect coworkers and subordinates to do their job well, don’t expect them to outperform the person who’s supposed to be setting the standard—you, the facility manager.

Conflict With Customers

There are plenty of opportunities for disagreements to arise between a self-storage business and its customers, not all of which are preventable. A payment not being applied correctly or promptly is perhaps the most common scenario. Sometimes technology breaks down and creates an issue, like no gate access. Maybe you’ve raised your rents, and a customer feels it’s excessive or unjustified. The list of possibilities is long, so you need to be prepared.

When a customer notifies you about an issue, first express gratitude for the opportunity to address it. Too often, disgruntled customers will simply vacate and take their business elsewhere; or worse, they’ll post a scathing one-star review or make a negative comment on one of your social media platforms. These emotional responses to perceived wrongs are rarely fair or balanced.

Whatever the case, approach the situation with a positive attitude and prepare to do some deep listening. Though what the customer has to say may not be easy to hear, you need to fully grasp the problem and be able to repeat it back to them. You want to convince customer they’ve been heard. For example, you might say something like, “It sounds like the elevator being out of order was a huge inconvenience for you last Saturday.” The goal is to get on the same side of the problem so you can diffuse it and facilitate a solution.

If you have a negative attitude or display dispassionate body language, the situation can devolve quickly. Our self-storage customers not only want to be heard, they wish to be validated. This is why giving “airtime” to an unhappy tenant can be effective. Sometimes just listening intently is enough to resolve an issue. In more severe circumstances, particularly those in which the business is culpable, a refund or rent reduction might be more appropriate.

In this era of online reviews and social media, company employees and customers have a bigger stick than they used to, and they aren’t afraid to use it. If you want to keep an incident from escalating and going public, you might have to be more generous or creative with your dispute resolution. Sometimes a conversation or apology will suffice. Other times, it may take more. Ultimately, your ability and willingness to work toward a solution has a tremendous influence on the productivity and success of the business. It’s one of your most important traits as a self-storage facility manager.

Susan Haviland is the owner of Haviland Storage Services, which specializes in self-storage auditing, manager training, market studies and operational reviews. She has more than 32 years of industry experience, from serving as a site manager to acting as vice president of operations at Extra Space Storage Inc. and Price Self Storage. She’s a frequent speaker at industry conferences and tradeshows. For more information, call 760.401.0297.

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